Belatedly I have just read a report issued in June 2011 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an organization that has been producing interesting survey data about worldwide religion with astounding frequency. This one is titled “Evangelical Protestant Leaders”. It contains the results of a survey of Evangelical leaders from all over the world who gathered in Cape Town in October 2010 at the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. The first such gathering occurred in 1974 in Lausanne (Switzerland), convened by none other than Billy Graham. It issued a document called the Lausanne Covenant, a lengthy and feisty statement of core Evangelical beliefs. The original impetus has continued in something (what else?) called the Lausanne Movement, which has its headquarters in the US. In case you wondered, the Second Congress took place in Manila in 1989. (Who said that Evangelicals are averse to globe-trotting?)
A total of about 4,500 delegates attended the Cape Town event—43% from the so-called Global North (aka as Europe, North America, and some outliers like Australia) and 57% from the so-called Global South (aka as everyone else—in Latin America, Africa and Asia). The survey questionnaire was distributed to all delegates in nine languages (including English); 50% completed the survey (which indicates very strong interest). The report is, by its very nature, chock full of statistics. I don’t know about readers of my blog, but my eyes tend to glaze over when presented with mountains of figures. (I like to say that every time arithmetic was being taught in my elementary school in Vienna, I had the measles—like four times a week. I have had the measles ever since.) Sometimes, though, slogging through such statistics is very instructive. It is in this case.
After an initial perusal of the report, I went over it again and sorted the material out into two categories—findings that did not surprise me, and findings that did. I will follow the same categories here.
Not surprising: This group of people represents a massive, unapologetic community of Evangelical faith. Over 90% agree with statements that “Christianity is the one true faith leading to eternal life”, that “The Bible is the Word of God”, and that “Abortion is usually or always wrong”. However, and that is surprising, only 50% believe that “The Bible should be read literally, word for word”. That formula quite accurately sums up what is meant by Biblical “inerrancy”—an idea that has commonly been equated with Evangelicalism. So here is an important instance where the common stereotypes fall short.
Other findings are again not surprising: When asked what is essential to be a good Evangelical, over 90% cite “Following the teaching of Christ in personal and family life” (as against only 56% who think it is essential to take moral stands in public life) and “Working to lead others to Christ”—the first statement corresponding to the common view that Evangelical morality tends to focus on private rather than public life, the second statement representing the emphasis on evangelism which is at the very core of this version of Protestantism (to the point where secular journalists often use “evangelists” as a term for “Evangelicals).
What we have here is a robust supernaturalism, which very likely describes the majority of Christians in the Global South, and a minority phenomenon in the Global North. But it is a very exclusive supernaturalism (sharply different, for example, from the diffuse dabbling with the supernatural in New Age spirituality). Over 90% of the respondents reject astrology, reincarnation, yoga as a spiritual discipline, and the belief that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. This effectively excommunicates much of what passes for spirituality in America, but more importantly (because it is much more widespread) the various expressions of syncretism between Christianity and indigenous religions, so important in Africa and Latin America. In the same vein, the respondents express very negative views of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The exclusively Christian supernaturalism is impressive: 94% believe that miracles take place today, 93% believe in divine healing, 93% have had a born-again experience, 61% have received direct revelation from God. No understanding here of the Gospel in terms of psychotherapy or political liberation!
One area I found somewhat confusing is where the report speaks of relations between Evangelicals and Pentecostals—two categories which overlap. Quite apart from the fact that most religion scholars regard Pentecostals as a sub-division of Evangelicals, even in Cape Town itself 25% of the delegates described themselves as Pentecostals and 31% as charismatics—two designations for what is essentially the same phenomenon. So I don’t want to make much of the finding that 80% felt that Pentecostals are friendly to Evangelicals, and that 92% of Evangelicals are friendly to Pentecostals. (It’s a bit like saying that a certain percentage of Orthodox Jews are friendly toward Judaism.) What the findings do indicate that, on the whole, there is little tension between these two, partially overlapping expressions of contemporary Protestantism. (There are exceptions: The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Evangelical denomination in America, rejects speaking in tongues; and some charismatic Christians, notably in Africa, look down on non-charismatic churches as unfaithful to the full Gospel.)
The dislikes of Evangelicals are clear enough: 70% are not friendly to atheists, 67% to Muslims. And only 8% say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. As to morality, in addition to the aforementioned condemnation of abortion, 84% say that homosexuality should be discouraged by society, 79% that men should be leaders in marriage and the family, and 55% even affirm that “A wife must always obey her husband”. Just so that these positions are not interpreted as a pervasive macho ideology, note that no less than 75% agree that women can be pastors. From other evidence it is fair to say that, on the whole, Evangelical Protestantism enhances the status of women in developing societies.
Let me now come to some findings that surprised me. There is a remarkable difference between South and North in whether respondents are optimistic about the prospects for Evangelicalism in their region—respectively, 71% and 44%. And asked whether Evangelicals have an influence on their society, 58% of respondents from the South are optimistic, against 31% from the North. These opinions strike me as empirically realistic in both regions. The Lausanne crowd is hopeful about the future and confident about their role in it! They do see threats. At the head of the list of perceived threat is “secularism” at 71% (though it is not clear just what is meant by that). Very significantly, only 10% cite Catholicism as a threat—another indication of a continuing rapprochement between Evangelicals and conservative Catholics. Probably not surprising is that 90% of those living in Muslim-majority countries see Islam as a threat, with only 41% of those living elsewhere.
I was surprised by the degree of creationist and apocalyptic beliefs: 47% believe that “Humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”, 44% that “Jesus will probably return in own lifetime”, 61% that “rapture” will take place before the final battle between Jesus and Satan (this means that faithful Christians will be whisked away from earth before that battle is joined—a belief wonderfully encapsuled on a bumper sticker I saw, of all places, in Boston—“This car will be driverless in case of rapture”).
Big surprise: Since Evangelicals are widely identified with the so-called “prosperity Gospel”, the Lausanne crowd sharply dissents from the latter: 90%(!) say that “God doesn’t always give wealth and good health to believers who have deep faith”. There goes another stereotype. Another stereotype (possibly generalizing from the American situation) is the identification of Evangelicals with pro-Israeli sentiments. The responses here are more nuanced—certainly favorable to Israel, but not monolithically: 73% believe that “God’s covenant with the Jewish people continues today”, but only 48% that “The State of Israel is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy”, 34% say that they are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians, as against 11% more sympathetic to the Palestinians, with 39% saying that they are equally sympathetic to both (the US figure is 49%).
Also surprising: 56% of respondents living in non-Muslim countries believe that Muslims should be evangelized—but 80%(!) living in Muslim-majority countries believe this. Since in the latter case such evangelism carries a credible threat of death, this is a remarkable indicator of resolute faith. Finally, there is the stereotype that Evangelicals aim for a theocracy and that they are against the welfare state: The respondents are about equally split (45% yes, 48% no) about the proposition that the Bible should be “the official law of the land”. And 81% agree that it is a government responsibility to take care of very poor people.
Are these responses representative of the huge number of Evangelical Protestants in the world (depending on just how one defines Evangelicalism, at least 600 million)? The organizers of the conference selected participants to reflect the proportions of Evangelicals in their respective countries. And I suppose that the notion of “leaders” is somewhat flexible. All the same, I think that this group is indeed representative of the global Evangelical community—or at any rate its most committed component (stipulating that ordinary believers do not always believe or behave as they are enjoined from the pulpit). The profile that emerges from these data is of an elite that is very self-assured, robustly supernaturalist in an orthodox Christian mode, conservative in its moral values. But the orthodoxy is not monolithic—half of the respondents do not believe in Biblical “inerrancy”. Nor is this an elite out to impose a theocracy. It is a complicated profile—and a very instructive one.